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"Community of Compassion" heals dental woes with clinic

Andrew Russell
| Saturday, July 29, 2017, 5:18 p.m.
John Mitchell of Hampton has oral surgery performed by Dr. Rick Celko, Regional Dental Director for UPMC Health Plan, at the Mission of Mercy free care event held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
John Mitchell of Hampton has oral surgery performed by Dr. Rick Celko, Regional Dental Director for UPMC Health Plan, at the Mission of Mercy free care event held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Havanna Hazelwood, 6, of Freedom talks with dentists before her exam at the Mission of Mercy free care event held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Havanna Hazelwood, 6, of Freedom talks with dentists before her exam at the Mission of Mercy free care event held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
The Mission of Mercy free care event is expected to provide 1,400 people with dental diagnoses, minor restorative fillings, extractions and cleanings. The event was held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's Campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The Mission of Mercy free care event is expected to provide 1,400 people with dental diagnoses, minor restorative fillings, extractions and cleanings. The event was held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's Campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Dr. Daniel Pituch, co-founder of Face2Face Healing and oral and maxillofacial surgeon for UPMC, performs oral surgery on a patient at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017, for the Mission of Mercy free care event.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dr. Daniel Pituch, co-founder of Face2Face Healing and oral and maxillofacial surgeon for UPMC, performs oral surgery on a patient at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017, for the Mission of Mercy free care event.
Two kids nap as their mother gets a root canal at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on  Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Two kids nap as their mother gets a root canal at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Valeria Amador, 7, of Beltzhoover plays rock–paper–scissors with her brother, Gonzalo Amador, 5, while waiting for the dentist at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Valeria Amador, 7, of Beltzhoover plays rock–paper–scissors with her brother, Gonzalo Amador, 5, while waiting for the dentist at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Dental hygienists work on patients at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dental hygienists work on patients at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Jeffrey Lieberman of Dormant talks to his friend Dan Stewart at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jeffrey Lieberman of Dormant talks to his friend Dan Stewart at the Mission of Mercy free care event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
An oral surgeon works on a patient at the Mission of Mercy free care event held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
An oral surgeon works on a patient at the Mission of Mercy free care event held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus on Saturday, July 29, 2017.

Every day, Dan Pituch sees first hand the result of dental neglect.

As the chief of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at UPMC Mercy and UPMC Shadyside, he sees a steady stream of patients coming into the ER requiring surgery on a tooth. He says that many of the patients can't afford regular trips to the dentist and end up in the ER

“My colleagues and I are the ones who are called on to treat this,” Pituch says. “At that point, the patient is left with a scar, or worse. I seen these situations become life-threating. All of those problems would be preventable if the patient gets early treatment.”

Pituch cofounded a not-for-profit called Face2Face Healing and partnered with TeleTracking Technologies Inc. and UPMC Health Plan to organize and execute Mission of Mercy, a two-day event at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Duquesne University's campus, that brings dental diagnoses, minor restorative fillings, extractions and cleanings to people who couldn't afford it otherwise. Pituch partnered with his son, an engineering student, to draw up a floor plan that brings together 700 volunteers and 50 work stations that can treat 1,400 patients for everything from a regular cleaning to complex oral surgery.

“This is a 50-chair clinic built from the ground up on a gymnasium floor,” Pituch says. “On Thursday morning, a tractor trailer arrived at the gym and the Duquesne Football team unloaded it for us. We used chalk outlines from our floor plan, created an assembly line and built this all in one day.”

For Michael G. Zamagias of TeleTracking Technologies Inc., one of the events sponsors, the effort is the result of what he refers to as the “community of compassion.” He says that nearly $1.4 billion is spent on treatment for conditions that are preventable with things like regular dental checkups.

“A lot of the people here, they just don't know where to go,” Zamagias says. “As much as this is about dentistry, it's a about compassion.”

Andrew Russell is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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